Sandy Carter, VP of Social Business Sales and Evangelism at IBM, joins the Social Pros Podcast this week to discuss social media versus social business, the importance of innovation in social business strategy, and how to keep customers and employees alike most productive and loyal.
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Social Pros Highlights For Your Reading Enjoyment, Thanks to Speechpad for the Transcription
A Case Study in Penn & Teller
Jay: I had an interesting experience recently. As some of you know, I was at the New Media Expo in Las Vegas last week doing a big presentation there. I saw a lot of friends, and met a lot of new friends, some great content. The NMX guys do a great job.
But the last night I was there, I went to the Penn & Teller comedy show at the Rio, which is where the conference was. It was amazing the way Penn and Teller sort of co-opted the audience and turned them into volunteer marketers. They’ve got a lot of bits in the show where they actually use people’s cell phones and record video and then ask them to upload it to YouTube.
The most amazing thing – Penn and Teller are a pretty big deal, right? They’ve been at the Rio for 12 or 13 years. At the end of every show, they come out to the lobby and sign autographs and take pictures until the last person leaves. Every night. It’s amazing, because that creates so many social ripples. Every photo, every tweet, every Facebook post about, “Oh, here’s me with Teller, and here’s me with Penn.”
I certainly took those pictures and uploaded them, and there’s a lot of people who follow me in social media, of course. So it creates a lot of awareness for them, perhaps even more so than they could create for themselves. I wrote a blog post about that recently. I think it’s a really good lesson for all companies.
One of the things that I’ve been most interested in with regard to IBM’s social business journey is how effective they’ve been at activating their own employee base as well as their hundreds of thousands of customers worldwide. I think IBM is really, really smart in that it’s not about them. It’s not about how loud can they shout or how often can they talk at you, it’s about how can we get other people to be our megaphones for us.
That’s why I’m so delighted to have on the show today Sandy Carter, who is the Vice President of Social Business Sales and Evangelism for a little company you may have heard of called IBM.
Sandy, thanks very much for being on Social Pros. How are you?
Sandy: Thank you so much, Jay. I am delighted to be here. I will have you know that my daughter went to the Penn & Teller show with us. She’s 11. She got placed on stage and put that up on her Instagram and Facebook accounts. So now, Penn and Teller will not only have folks my age but also my daughter’s age by doing all that as well.
Jay: Isn’t it brilliant? It’s just a really interesting way of blending the performance with the marketing. About three weeks ago, I was in Vegas for speaking, and I took my kids. We went to the Criss Angel show, and Criss Angel very much prohibits you to even have your cell phone on. And I’m thinking, you know, this is a very anachronistic perspective at this point. Why wouldn’t you want people to create media if you are in that business?
Sandy: I agree completely with you. I think that engagement level at Penn and Teller, reaching all audiences using all media, is just a phenomenal way to really co-opt a whole new audience that you didn’t even have before. As you said, creating ripples in the social world. So I’m a big fan. A big fan.
What is a Social Business?
Jay: You’re doing that, as well, with your team. I know the IBM Social Eminence program has really taken off. You have thousands and thousands of employees now who are activated in social media and social business who are doing things on behalf of the company all across the world. Can you tell us a little bit about how that works?
Sandy: Sure. First, Jay, our view is that social business is the business of competitors across the world. It’s going to be what every company has to do. For us, a social business engages its clients, like you gave the example of Penn and Teller, and its employees. Employee engagement is equally as important.
It’s a business that’s transparent, open, honest; shares things, doesn’t restrict you like the other example you just gave us; and it’s a business that is very nimble. In order to have those three characteristics while using social tools and techniques throughout your business processes, you really need to engage your employees to be spokespeople for you. That’s one of the great things that IBM has done.
We continually train our employees. We teach them about the tools themselves, and then they go out and use their subject matter expertise to make IBM personal, to make it not about IBM, not about B2B, not about B2C, but P2P: person-to-person. So no longer am I IBM. I’m Sandy from IBM. That gives IBM, I believe, that little edge in the social space, making us much more personal.
Jay: Right. In theory – this is maybe a little bit philosophical – but IBM has no knowledge; people who work for IBM have knowledge. I think you’ve done an amazing job at decentralizing social business and putting the power in the hands of the individual. And you’re right, I think every company is going to get there eventually, but I think it’s commendable how fast IBM has been able to get there.
Sandy: Yeah, you’re right. It encourages employees to be collaborative. The social approach enables employees around the world to tap into each other’s expertise, to share that expertise with clients, to be a valued resource and not just be a seller, but to provide value in the marketplace. And to use those right skills, I think, really addresses market demands where they are today.
Jay: It’s an interesting point about loyalty. Are you saying then that employees who are encouraged to use social to interact with one another and customers stay at IBM longer than employees who don’t?
Sandy: I haven’t done any research to say they stay there longer, but I would say that they’re more loyal to the company. If you look at some of the recent studies, I find it fascinating that 40-45% of employees will actually accept a lower-paying job in order to work for a company where social is embraced and they’re allowed to use social. Social is not blocked from them. I think that that’s because both digital natives and digital immigrants want to work the way that they work. The way that they’re used to.
So if you think about this, really turning your workforce into a smarter workforce where customer service is exceptional because the company reaches out to customers through its social network and pools together the right answer – and does so responsibly – that makes the employee more loyal because he or she is impacting the world. The customer is more loyal because you’ve reached him or her where they are in the channel that they’ve chosen to use and to leverage.
I think social has lots of power on engagement, both employee engagement and customer engagement, that leads to that strong loyalty in the marketplace. I said I haven’t done any studies myself, but I do find that employers or companies who engage their employees with social, their employees tend to stay around longer because they feel like they have a voice, and they have a role to play in the company’s strategy overall.
An interesting fact – people-focused businesses generate 26% more revenue per employee
Jay: It makes a lot of sense. I think if you look at human psychology, we want to be part of something. Social gives us the impression that we are part of something, either as a customer or as an employee.and have 40% lower turnover rates. This is from the Bersin Report, “The Science of Fit.”
Going Beyond Social Media
Jay: Your title is Social Business, and IBM uses social media in ways that very much transcend marketing. Do you see there to be a difference between social media and social business, either in your own company or in a broader context? If so, what is that difference?
Sandy: For us, if you think about social media, that’s social being integrated or meshed into the marketing or communications process. That’s where social media actually started or began. We’ve used social media as part of a social business.
But a social business goes beyond just adding social into marketing and communication. They add social into talent: how you recruit talent, how you retain talent – the discussion we just had. They insert social into sales. Jay, our most effective and productive sales team at IBM is one that uses and leverages some of the reference social that’s out there today to generate more opportunities than their colleagues.
Jay: It’s that unofficial touch point in between the official CRM?
Sandy: That’s right. And gaining that relationship. Social is about a relationship, forming relationships with lots of different people. Not necessarily for selling, but to add value to them, to teach them something and answer questions to form that relationship of trust so that when they need something, they can come back to you as that key influencer that they can come to because now they trust you based on that work.
So really, organizations, I think, have quickly learned that social business isn’t about a company that has a Facebook page up or a Twitter account. It really means that every department has embedded those social capabilities into their traditional business processes. What that enables them to do is produce business value. It really enables them, I believe, to disrupt their industry and to create a competitive advantage.
Jay: Because social business principles are so embedded now in the culture at IBM, what does your team look like on the social business side of the aisle? How is that structure articulated within the organization?
Sandy: Well, the great thing is that social business isn’t in only one organization. It’s Ginni Rometty, our CEO, all the way down. Everybody uses and leverages social. Everybody is responsible for representing IBM. Everybody is part of IBM’s brand army.
If you think about our folks who get out there and evangelize, we leverage many areas to teach about social and to educate on social while being social ourselves. We’re out there on all the social channels, both internal and external, as well as leveraging in-person meetings. So the social team leverages the structure of IBM.
For instance, we have something called the Digital IBMer. It teaches and trains every IBMer on how to use and leverage social. We have digital councils that help us to share best practices so we can learn quickly and nimbly. We have ways to look at analytics so that we can better serve our clients, listen to what they’re saying. In fact, there’s a Social Intelligence Center at IBM that looks at everything said about IBM 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. All these elements purvey everything we do in the company. It helps all of us to become social and therefore be more competitive in our roles.
Trusting Your Employees
Jay: One of the things that I really appreciate about the Social Business program at IBM is this notion that in the Social Eminence program where you’re able to use social in the company, people can choose their own path. It’s not, “Here’s exactly what you need to do in social to be part of social at IBM.” You let people participate in ways that they feel comfortable. Too often it’s, “Here’s how you do it: bullet point, bullet point, bullet point.” Everybody has the exact same playbook, which doesn’t actually work in practice.
Sandy: I agree. I love IBM because they’re not restrictive. They give you boundaries, I would say, and then you work within the boundaries. But you can create your own brand in support of IBM. We’re all doing this in support of IBM and the client itself. But once you do that, I think it’s a major way to innovate with clients, to help clients, to share your expertise and to really be your own brand out in the marketplace – still representing IBM, but still a unique brand that exists.
Jay: What we always find on the consulting side is that having employee social media guidelines doesn’t inhibit participation; it creates participation because employees don’t want to participate in social if nobody has given them any rules because that’s how you get fired, right? That actually gets people in the game.
Sandy: You’re absolutely right. In fact, employees asking about it and taking lower-paying jobs if you don’t have the use of social, to me, says a lot about the importance of that desire and need in people today to take this to the next level.
I think that allowing your employees to do many of these things is a best practice because if employees use and leverage it, they’re only going to do better. Empowering your employees and trusting them – I mean, you hired them in the first place. That’s what’s so funny to me. You hired them, you selected them, you went through a really rigorous process, and then you don’t trust them to talk about your company online? I don’t really get that. So I am very proud of the way that IBM has gone out there and trusted its employees, and not just trusted but encouraged them to be out there, to be online and to speak about IBM and their knowledge that they can bring into the marketplace.
Social as a Skill, Not a Job
Jay: Your background is in marketing. As more companies embrace decentralized social and make social sort of like oxygen – as opposed to water that you have to go and get – do you feel like there’s going to be more instances of non-marketers being in charge of social business?
Sandy: I think so. I already see a lot of chief HR officers who are out there very active in the social world. Take Clarissa Felts at Lowe’s, for instance. She’s very active in the collaboration area. I’m also seeing more chief sales officers that are coming to us based on some of our best practices on leveraging these tools for identification of new opportunities.
Jay: Amber Naslund and I wrote this in The Now Revolution – it freaks me out because it was almost three years ago when we wrote that book – but what we said then was that social will become a skill, not a job. It will just be part of what you do, the same way you have an email address and a phone number. And I think we’re getting there.
Sandy: I agree. One of the things that I really love about IBM – and of course, it’s use of our own technology – is that if the technology allows you to work the way you work and still be social, your adoption levels will increase.
Let me give you an example of that. If you’re a CEO, let’s say you’re not inherently social. If the social platform that you use enables you to email to blog, or to video blog because you’re more comfortable with video blogs, or I have one CEO who does a dictation. He dictates his blog. The more the platform gives you that way to slowly get into social if you’re not a digital native or not even an immigrant, that you’re able to work the way you work and still get things done, I think the higher the adoption and the more it does become like oxygen and not water.
Jay: Janrain – one of our sponsors which specializes in social login – the data that they have in terms of conversion rate when people can sign up for something just by clicking “authenticate with Facebook” as opposed to filling out yet another form. Yes, many people want to do social media. But they don’t want it to be a big hassle, right? Everybody has another job to do. So I think that’s really wise. How can you reduce participation friction, especially in a company as large as yours? You don’t want social business to be in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish. You do other things than social, obviously. So it’s got to be additive, not a replacement.
Sandy: I think that’s why our platform called IBM Connections has one of the highest adoption rates, because we drink our own champagne, if you would. We’ve tried it out, we’ve learned what works, what doesn’t work, what you can do to drive adoption through things that make it easier, like the example you just gave.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” In social in particular, if you don’t remove some of these cultural barriers, you’ll never have social flowing everywhere throughout your company. It will be blocked. Your culture always wins in any battle. So making sure that you’ve got some of these cultural things knocked down and that you’re able to proceed forward, to me, is really crucial.
Jay: You obviously are in touch with a lot of companies who consult with IBM about their social business initiatives. So people are always asking you questions: “Sandy, what do you think about this, what do you think about that?” What are you just sick of? What, for you, has jumped the shark or is way overrated in social media and social business?
Sandy: The biggest one that I’m really getting tired of is, “My competitors are doing it.” Versus companies really sitting back and saying, you know, “My competitive advantage is different than my competitors; therefore, the way I use social may be similar too, but it’s not a good enough reason just because my competitor has it.”
I think companies are missing out when they don’t sit down and look at their processes and what makes them unique. Why do their clients buy from them? Look at how they can improve that critical process with social and take it to the next level. I think companies that do that really, really hit the mark.
One of those that I recently talked to is Cemex, which is a cement company down in Mexico. This one I always use when companies come to me and say, “Oh, you don’t know my company, Sandy. We can never be social.” Well, Cemex is the third-largest building materials company.
They created a social initiative called Shift that’s really enabled them to innovate with their employees. They didn’t start by saying, “What are other cement companies doing? I want to copy that.” They said, “You know what, our competitive advantage is innovation. It’s coming out with more and higher profitable products. Let’s use social to let the employees come up with that next ready-to-mix cement.” And that’s exactly what they did. Some of their best ideas have come out of their social network inside their company that they would have never, ever have come up with, because they looked at it differently and they looked at it from their unique position.
Jay: That’s a really good point that not enough companies think about social from an innovation market research perspective.
Sandy: Right, they don’t. For me, like Cemex, looking at this innovation as crowdsourcing from inside, creating employee loyalty because I impacted my company’s strategy. Think about the power of that.
If you look at people coming out of college, obviously they want to earn money, but the second thing they want to do is they want to change the world. Social gives them that ability to have a voice, to be heard, to change the world, which is exactly what Cemex did. Again, starting with,”What’s my competitive differentiation? And how can social take that to the next level?” I just think it was a very smart way to go.
Social Pros Shoutout
Jay: Sandy, do you have some Social Pros shoutouts for us? People that inspire you in the world of social who do not get the credit that they so richly deserve?
Sandy: Well, one is Lowe’s. I think that what Lowe’s has done over the last three years is pretty amazing. They just had me down to North Carolina at corporate headquarters to have all of their social champions in that live in all their stores throughout the U.S. It was kicked off by their CEO, Robert, which I thought was such a great leadership statement. And again, their HR team and Clarissa, they’re very impactful. Here’s a quote she gave me, Jay, and I just love this quote. She said, “Social didn’t transform our culture. It revealed our culture.” Think about that.
So I think that they are an unsung hero. I think they’ve done a lot of great stuff.
Another one that I love is Seton Hall University. They were seeing a decline in the number of students that came into the school. They started looking at: why do people come to Seton Hall? One of the things they determined was that if a potential student knew an alumni was connected to them, they had a higher degree of coming to Seton Hall. So what they did was they created a Facebook page, Class of 2014. They invited everyone who applied to the school into the Facebook page. Then – very smart – they had their own alumni come into the Facebook group. They started using social analytics – from IBM, I might add – and as they started listening to the conversations, they added in professors or topics, experts that the new students potentially needed to see or hear about. The end result is their largest matriculating class in 30 years. Can you believe that?
Jay: Wow, that’s great. Next week, ladies and gentlemen, we have Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz on the podcast. We’re going to take a whole different approach to everything: we’re going to talk about the convergence of search and social, which is going to be really interesting. Eric was unable to make the show today, but we’ll have him back next week with Rand.
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